Survivor Stories 2013:
How did you first find out you had cancer?
Early in 1986, while showering, I discovered a lump in my right breast. It was the size of a cherry and felt hard. My heart sank immediately. I had no idea at the time how my life would change forever.
After a series of doctor appointments, during most of which I was told the “lump” appeared benign, I was connected with a surgeon based in Washington, DC. In late April, 1986, she performed a biopsy which told me what I had feared…I had cancer!
How did you react when you heard the news?
The doctor told me right away while I was in recovery that I had cancer, I can still picture her today when she walked in the room. When I heard the news I was shocked. I remember going home and opening a bottle of wine…mostly numb and unsure what the future would hold.
What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Things were VERY different in the mid 1980s and surgeons had just started doing the lumpectomy procedure. Recovering from the surgery turned out to be the easy part of the whole experience. Two weeks after the surgery I met with the radiologist at George Washington Hospital Center to begin my 6 weeks of daily radiation treatments. Next I met with the oncologist and began my 18 month experience with chemotherapy. Determined to work through this, I had the love and support of family and friends and made sure I got a good therapist! I thank my doctors and health care team for saving my life!
Each morning I would travel (about 45 minutes) via subway to downtown Washington, DC for my radiation treatment and then head to the office for a day’s work. As the treatments wore on, I became more and more fatigued, but I continued to try and maintain my daily activities which included a full time job, gardening and working out.
What most surprised you about your treatment?
I never quite knew when the end of chemo would be. The oncologist kept a close watch on my blood work and used that to gauge my treatments. One day he said, we are finished, but……. There is a new experimental drug I could try and stop treatments whenever I wanted. I asked if I were his wife or daughter, would he recommend the drug and he said yes. So I continued with treatments another couple months.
What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Never give up hope! Try to remember that the “c word” is not the death penalty. Breast cancer treatments have come a long way since I was diagnosed. Explore your options carefully. Bring someone with you to doctor appointments to have a 2nd set of ears listening. Sometimes as the patient we miss important things. Consider seeking counseling and/or a support group.
How long have you been cancer free?
Since 1986, so 27 years now. Not bad considering I was given a 50/50 chance of 5 year survival! The first 5 years were the hardest – fearful the cancer would return.
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
That life can change dramatically in the blink of an eye! When you wake up be glad you have the day. When times get tough, I remember what I went through in order to survive cancer and that gives a renewed perspective! I also learned that, for me, giving back is SO important! I have participated in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer since 2001, walked hundreds of miles and raised over $500,000 to support the fight. I have talked to women and men who are survivors and those recently diagnosed. I share my story so that they have hope and know that surviving and beating the odds really can happen!
If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Never give up hope! Trust your inner feelings. Several doctors didn’t recommend a biopsy to me because my cancer chances were so small. If you think something is wrong with your body trust your inner feelings and find a doctor who will listen!
Deb is internationally recognized as an expert Disney Vacations ranging from Walt Disney World to the Disney Cruise Line and to Disneyland. A veteran of countless trips to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, Deb also set sail on over 35 cruises. She has appeared on numerous podcasts as a guest host/speaker, has made several presentations to standing room only crowds at a variety of Disney Fan events and contributed to numerous Disney guide books.
Bitten by the Disney bug at an early age, Deb Wills has combined her skills in computer technology with her love of the Disney theme parks to create AllEars.net, an unofficial travel guide to Disney Destinations. Since January 1996, she has developed the site into one of the most up-to-date, independent resources about Disney vacation destinations.
In conjunction with the website, Deb publishes AllEars, a free weekly electronic newsletter that has over 148,000 subscribers from around the world. ALL EARS®, which started publication in September 1999, informs readers on what’s happening at Walt Disney World with previews, interviews, news, reviews and much more.
Deb actively participates in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer to raise funds and awareness in the fight against this horrible disease, of which she herself is a survivor in 1986. Deb has participated in 13 Avon Breast Cancer Walks (both as a walker and a crew member) for which she has raised over $520,000 since 2001. Deb was the featured speaker at the 2010 Washington DC Avon Walk for Breast Cancer closing ceremony. For her special efforts in the fight against breast cancer, Deb received the 2006 Food & Friends Spirit of Friendship Award.